Earlier this month, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called for cannabis legalisation in the UK. The party is proposing to table a motion at their annual conference to legalise and regulate medicinal and recreational cannabis.

Gary Malcolm, Liberal Democrat Councillor in Ealing, gave VolteFace his personal case for drug reform.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm
Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm

Many people ask why I think that cannabis should be legalised, given that I have never smoked a cigarette in my life.

As a graduate in Genetics, my biological and scientific background leads me to form policies based on evidence, while my guiding liberal philosophy leads me to want people to have the chance to make their own decisions.

In this country we have seen government after government not wanting to make serious moves on the issue of legalising cannabis. But, in the UK, opinion polls have shown that the majority of people support the legalisation of cannabis.

Governments have listened to myths about cannabis. But as research has progressed over time, and in a growing number of countries, it is clear that there is now a significant body of evidence behind the legalisation campaign.

Some people want cannabis simply to be decriminalised. This would be a useful first step, but it only offers a limited set of benefits. A study commissioned by former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, showed that it would save about £200 million each year from a reduced use of police and court budgets.

However, decriminalising cannabis still only allows people access to the drug through illegal routes. With all unlicensed drugs there is the common process of mixing with other compounds, which on occasions can be more harmful. In addition, the profits from the trade would still go to organised criminals.

It is better to fully legalise cannabis and control the whole process from production to retail. Regulation and the licensing of where you could buy cannabis would mean a safer product, as well as ensuring we could prevent children and vulnerable people getting hold of it.

In a 2014 article in The Guardian, Sir William Patey, the former UK ambassador to Afghanistan, was quoted as saying it was impossible to stop Afghan farmers from growing and exporting opium illegally. He added:

“Putting governments in control of the global drug trade through legal regulation will remove the incentive for those in fragile, insecure regions to produce and traffic drugs. Putting doctors and pharmacists in control of supply in the UK will save lives, improve health and reduce crime.”

There are many other reasons why legalising cannabis would lead to positive outcomes. These destroy the myths that have been spread over the past few decades.

Studies in mice and rats, reported on cancer.gov have shown that cannabinoids can inhibit tumour growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth and the development of blood vessels needed by tumours to grow. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.

A 2015 paper in the journal Lancet Psychiatry showed clear evidence that cannabis use by teenagers does not increase after American states legalised medical cannabis.

In addition, there is no solid evidence to suggest that once legalised it would remain a ‘gateway drug’ leading people onto more dangerous substances. In 2015 the journal Scientific Reports, showed that cannabis could actually be the safest drug available, as it is 114 times less deadly than alcohol.

A study conducted by the University of Texas showed that legalising cannabis would not increase crime and the rates of certain crimes tend to drop. The Economist published an article called ‘Regulating Cannabis – the right way to do drugs’ which showed that outlawing cannabis use is not a gateway to harder drugs and in some cases people reduce their drug usage.

Malcolm is adding his voice to the growing movement to reform UK drug laws
Malcolm is adding his voice to the growing movement to reform UK drug laws

There is then, the question of what type of cannabis should be legalised. Evidence shows that a segment of the population have a precondition to psychotic events, brought on by some types of cannabis, so it would be important to only allow cannabis where the risk profile through testing has shown a minimal risk of increased psychosis.

In Canada, Sativex has been developed for the treatment for the symptomatic relief of neuropathic pain in Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in adults. Sativex is cannabis based medicine containing Tetranabinex and Nabidiolex extracts of Cannabis sativa L. plants.

The active components are THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC causes the ‘high’ feeling, but it also the compound that can bring on psychosis. However, CBD actually has anti-psychotic properties. Evidence shows that when these compounds are found if roughly equal amounts, the user enjoys the high and pain killing effect, with a much reduced risk of psychosis.

The risks associated with ‘skunk’ are due to the fact that THC is available in much higher amounts than CDB in these strains. In a fully legalised market, these dangerous strains could be banned.

As the UK’s ageing population expands, many more of us may die of cancers or other painful illnesses which are incurable, as noted above, cannabis has been shown to have important painkilling properties.

I believe that anyone who has a terminal illness should be allowed to have access to cannabis to reduce their pain and suffering. It is simply about giving a patient in pain some dignity in their last few months.

Legalising cannabis would also benefit the Treasury. By legalising cannabis, a leaked government report, showed that hundreds of millions of pounds would be yielded by the government in taxes. With huge pressure on government finances, this is another reason why the legalisation of cannabis could improve society, by helping to fund mental health or pay junior doctors a fair wage.

Across America and other countries such as Uruguay, there is political momentum building up towards full legalisation. Let’s not miss the opportunity here in the UK to latch on to this simple, moderate reform that could bring so many benefits. So far, most politicians have been too weak to listen to the research and take a lead. Now is the time put pressure on the politicians and press for change.

Councillor Gary Malcolm,
Group Leader, Ealing Liberal Democrats

Read about the launch of End Our Pain – a new campaign to provide patients with access to medicinal cannabis in the UK.

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